Social Entrepreneurship – J Mair, J Robinson and K Hockerts (eds)

‘Social entrepreneurship’ has been something of a buzz phrase for politicians, academics and third sector practitioners for almost ten years now, yet the amount of serious research into the subject has remained stubbornly small. This is now changing and there have been five scholarly collections of papers on the subject published this year,[1] including this important collection.

The book brings together ten papers presented at the first International Social Entrepreneurship Research Conference (ISERC) held in Barcelona last year. Its main audience is clearly an academic one, though more reflective practitioners could also engage with the case studies and consultancy-style frameworks that are presented throughout.

The editors note that social entrepreneurship is in the ‘emergent excitement’ phase of its academic development and this sense of dynamism clearly comes through the collection. The book has four parts: perspectives and agenda for research; opportunities and intentions; strategy, structure and outcome; integrating sustainability and the environment.

In the first section, Austin usefully enumerates three important perspectives from which to examine social entrepreneurship – the comparative, the corporate and the collaborative – and then goes on to set out a range of key questions within each one. Next, Perrini and Vurro develop a complex descriptive model of the socially entrepreneurial process based on an analysis of 35 cases. Their account is wide-ranging and includes rich theoretical discussion, but as they acknowledge, their model would benefit from more detailed empirical testing. Most impressive of all in this section is Cho’s socio-political critique of social entrepreneurship, which offers genuine insights into the dangers and opportunities of social entrepreneurship and represents one of the most impressive contributions so far on the subject.

Section two features two papers. First, Robinson suggests that barriers to (market) entry include social, institutional and cultural, as well as economic, considerations. As with a number of the papers in the book, this contribution is highly ambitious and would benefit from a sharper editorial focus. Second, and much more concisely, Mair and Noboa chart the antecedents of socially entrepreneurial behaviour.

In section three, Hockerts draws up a conceptual framework of socially entrepreneurial opportunities based on activism, self-help and philanthropy. While these present interesting perspectives on a resource-based view of social entrepreneurship, the chapter is not fully developed. Next, Desa and Kotha examine Benetech – a technology-driven social venture – and draw from it a series of general hypotheses concerning this type of organization. The interface between technology and social innovation is particularly poorly researched, so this is a welcome and perceptive contribution. The section concludes with Haugh detailing some of the conclusions from a research project she carried out in north-east Scotland.

The final section focuses on social entrepreneurs’ wider contributions, first to ecological entrepreneurship and second to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In the former, Clifford and Dixon use a case study of Green-Works, which recycles furniture, to explore how an environmentally driven organization can operate as a successful social enterprise. In the latter, Seelos, Ganly and Mair consider a group of the Schwab Foundation’s 84 social entrepreneurs and show that a majority directly address the MDGs.

This collection is a brave attempt to position social entrepreneurship in mainstream academic discourse. It contributes valuable empirical and theoretical research, but the range of theoretical and methodological positions taken is, at times, bewildering and the collection as a whole lacks focus. It is also a failing that the book does not include work by key scholars from the research centres in social entrepreneurship already established at Duke, Stanford and Oxford, and within the EMES and SEKN networks. Nevertheless, this is an important book that should help to generate subsequent debate and research and its ambition is to be applauded.

1 See also J Austin, R Gutierrez, E Ogliastri and R Reficco (eds) Effective Management of Social Enterprises; R Mosher-Williams (ed) Research on Social Entrepreneurship: Understanding and contributing to an emerging field;
A Nicholls (ed), Social Entrepreneurship: New models of sustainable social change; and M Nyssens (ed) Social Enterprise.

Dr Alex Nicholls is the University Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, University of Oxford. Email

Social Entrepreneurship
J Mair, J Robinson and K Hockerts (eds) Palgrave McMillan £55
ISBN 1403996644

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